Mixing skin colour in acrylic paints

Updated November 21, 2016

Painting skin tones can be intimidating for young or inexperienced artists. Unrealistic, lifeless or "cartoonish" skin colours result when the artist uses the same generic flesh tone for the entire painting. Skin tones full of life can be created by mixing earth tones with reds, blues, yellows and white, and by using glazing techniques.

Earth tones

A simple way to mix a convincing colour when creating skin tones with acrylic paints is to use an earth tone as a base colour along with another pigment and white. Earth tones are pigments based on natural tones, such as browns and reds, and include siennas, ochres, and umbers. Use burnt sienna, a warm red brown, as a base for light skin tones, and burnt umber, a cool, dark brown, for dark skin tones. Umber and sienna can be mixed together with white to create a simple flesh tone.

Pink or rosy skin

To give skin tones a pink hue, add cadmium red, a warm red, or alizarin crimson, a cool red, with burnt sienna or burnt umber. Naphthol red can be used to give a rosy appearance.

Cool skin tone

Ultramarine blue can be used for cool skin tones. Adding ultramarine to burnt sienna or burnt umber will tint the skin slightly blue or grey. Prussian blue is a strong, deep blue that can be used for dark skin tones.


Shadows can be created by using any of the pigment combination ideas above, either without white or with very little white. Artists will often use glazing techniques for details such as shadows. Eliminate white and dilute the pigment mixture with water or acrylic medium, such as matt medium, to create an acrylic glaze.


Two different whites typically are used in acrylic painting. One is called titanium white, a brilliant, thick, opaque white, which is great for its hiding ability. Titanium white is most often used in painting. The other colour is zinc white, a cool, transparent white typically used for glazes and mixing. (Some brands offer a mixture of these two whites marketed specifically for mixing colours.) When making a skin colour, add enough white to match the subject's skin tone. Since acrylics dry quickly, try painting the skin all white, then glazing on top with thin veils of colour washes.

Real colours vs. hues

Hues are not real colours but mixtures of other pigments that try to imitate the real, more expensive pigments. When creating skin tone, real cadmium red should be used, not cadmium red hue. Cadmium red hue is made from naphthol red and is rosy in colour, not a bright orange red like cadmium red.

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